Helping victims of human trafficking recover is an involved process. Labor trafficking victims primarily seek legitimate work, housing, legal status, citizenship or safe return home. In comparison, sex trafficking victims have often undergone more extreme trauma and irreversible physical health problems, making their recovery process more complex and lengthy. Because experiences in captivity differ, it is important, with members from both groups, to employ a victim-centered approach and evaluate needs on a case-by-case basis. Recovery could take years.

Those who provide aid on a regular basis have learned trafficked persons often do not self-identify as victims. Captives have undergone a cyclical process of manipulation, coercion, threats and violence versus rewards. Because the victim receives rewards such as shelter, food or affection, they begin to view their capture as a caretaker.  This process is referred to as traumatic bonding. Victims may seek the safety or approval of their traffickers and return several times before breaking free. Many feel a sense of loyalty and refuse to testify against their captors in court.

Trauma-Informed Recovery

Recovery from human trafficking is an arduous process. Trauma-informed recovery takes into consideration the extreme physical and emotional wounds inflicted upon victims. Special accommodations are made to avoid re-traumatization and extended recovery times. The whole person, including physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of a being, is taken into consideration to achieve recovery.

Trauma-informed recovery provides a safe, transparent environment where the details of a trauma can be shared. Support from peers who have also experienced trauma has proven to be very beneficial. Instead of asking “What is wrong with you?” therapists are directed to ask “What has happened to you?” Therapists recognize what often appears to be dysfunctional behavior was put into practice as a coping skill. Focus is placed on individual strengths and the skill it took to survive such a horrendous situation. It is important for survivors to be allowed to partner with therapists to design a treatment plan and define success. It is essential those in recovery are brought into a culturally sensitive environment where they feel empowered and encouraged to use their own voice. Recovery, not just coping, is the ultimate goal.

Seclusion, restraint and forced medication are avoided, as these practices can mimic the abuse suffered by those trafficked and cause further harm. Remember, trafficking survivors have endured force, fraud and/or coercion while in captivity. A scent, song or setting can trigger a traumatic memory. It may initially be difficult for survivors to identify these triggers. In recovery, survivors learn to put their traumatic experiences in perspective, replace harmful behaviors with healthy ones, set appropriate boundaries and realize their inner strengths.

Immigration Relief Services

For non-U.S. citizens, fearful of deportation, it can be especially intimidating to report human trafficking crimes. In acknowledgment, the U.S. government offers immigration relief benefits for victims lacking citizenship, intended to encourage those trafficked to report crimes, assist with prosecutions and eliminate trafficking in persons.

The Blue Campaign, at the center of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to combat human trafficking helps in these victim recovery efforts. They provide immigration relief, support federal prosecutions and employ victim assistance specialists who work to inform victims of their rights and connect them with service providers.

Both U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) operate under the DHS umbrella. HSI investigates crimes and issues temporary immigration relief to trafficking victims. USCIS has the ability to grant T visas or U visas as an immigration benefit to victims who offer assistance in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases.

Continued Presence (CP)

Continued Presence is a temporary immigration status provided by law enforcement to those identified as human trafficking victims. A CP application should be submitted as soon as a victim is identified. CP status allows victims to remain in the United States during the ongoing investigation of crimes committed against them. Cooperation with law enforcement is not required for CP status. Most CP statuses are granted for one year and may be renewed annually.

T Visas

Trafficking victims are eligible to self-petition to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for this status. Law enforcement may fill out a declaration or certification, which informs USCIS about how the victim is assisting law enforcement. This certification is not required, if other evidence can be presented to show cooperation with law enforcement. T Visa status allows victims to stay in the U.S. for up to four years and may lead to lawful permanent residence.

U Visas

Trafficking victims are eligible to self-petition to the USCIS for this status. Law enforcement MUST fill out a declaration or certification, which informs USCIS about how the victim is assisting law enforcement. U Visa status allows victims to stay in the U.S. for up to four years and may lead to lawful permanent residence.

For more information regarding these immigration services, visit To apply for relief, contact USCIS at 1-800-375-5283.